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It was a short distance but long uneasy walk from the infantry training grounds to the headquarters of the Imperial Kempei. The command to report at once to Captain Semba had cast fear over the entire platoon, but Second Class Private Junichiro Inouye was the only soldier ordered to step out. Terrified to have attracted the attention of the 11th Division Military Police, he hurried along the neat walks, roads and grounds of the large Zentsûji army installation, his nearly 18-year-old frame solid and handsome, matured by six months of intensive instruction in the 43rd Infantry Regiment.
It was the morning of the last day of the seventh month in the sixth year of Shôwa, 1931. On the hot, dry parade ground, Inouye had submitted to the impatient orders of an assistant platoon sergeant. Now in his baggy tan uniform, wet in the armpits and back, approaching a building he had never entered, a place friends warned should be avoided, the peasant soldier examined his military training for times he’d been disciplined by superiors with slaps, kicks and blows. Any of those instances, or the accumulation of them, might have drawn the eyes of a Kempei officer to his dossier. And yet, he had been quick to learn, and obey his superiors without question.
Inouye sighed and faltered before the entrance of a grey stone building flanked by sentinels. He passed without acknowledgment and wondered what he had expected…to be struck and downed by rifle butts, or seized and assisted through the doorway by bayonet-point?
Pausing a moment in the entryway, Inouye bent to remove his shoes and, cap in hand, entered a wide busy room and approached a lean sergeant occupying a place of seemingly greatest prominence. An old wooden clock mounted on the wall above the seated man read ten o’clock precisely. Inouye stopped, saluted, and bowed, but stood too far from the desk to hear the sergeant. He advanced and repeated the procedure, bowing lower, hands to belly.
“What?” snapped the superior, a Sergeant of the First Class with three stars and a vertical gold band on his collar patches. He was hot, tired, and cross after Semba’s tirade about inefficiency when the sergeant had been seconds late with a conscript’s records... probably this one, the man thought, killing a fly on his desk with the flat of his hand.
Inouye bowed lower. “Sir, I beg your pardon, but I was ordered to report to Captain Semba at once.”
“Lick this mess off my hand, private!”
Inouye complied instantly, swallowing with no sign of distaste. Somewhere in the room a man giggled and the sergeant glared him into silence. For several minutes, the clock made the only sound. Inouye began to perspire heavily; his lips were dry, but he resisted moistening them for fear of drawing attention to his face. He strove to maintain a cold, blank expression and stand straight and motionless, but was startled by the sergeant who snapped: “And who are you?”
“Sir! Inouye, Junichiro, Second Class Private!” Inouye replied smartly. His arms ached from tension.
“What else?” the man demanded, his eyes slit. “State your organization, stupid ignorant son of a stupid ignorant rice-planter! Dono chûtai ni zokushita imasu ka?”
Inouye blushed. “Second Company, sir--”
The man clenched his fists and Inouye braced for a battering.
“Second Company, sir!” he repeated loudly. “Third Battalion, Forty-third Regiment of Infantry, Eleventh Division, Fourth Military Jurisdiction!”
The superior glowered. “Kokodo mate!” He stood abruptly and disappeared through a rear door. Inouye waited for a time before the man reappeared and ordered Inouye to follow him. Led down a long dark hallway behind the reception room, he stopped short when the sergeant said, “Tomare!” and knocked on a door.
“Hairo!” a voice growled.
The sergeant opened the door and pushed Inouye in to a small office.
“Private Inouye, captain!”
The boy failed to salute and bow fast enough to please the sergeant who delivered a hard slap to Inouye’s ear. Without looking up the officer spoke calmly: “That’s enough, sergeant.”
The man bowed, exited the room and shut the door. Inouye stood stiffly and waited as the officer read through a file of papers. As time passed and Inouye dared look down, he studied the man.
Immaculately dressed in a well-fitted summer uniform, Semba wore brown, thick-rimmed eyeglasses, and close-cut hair. His strong, impassive, rather ugly face bore a bushy black moustache and a scar across the lower lip that gave his mouth a twisted look. He was bent so far over the papers that Inouye wondered why he didn’t use a brighter bulb in the socket hung by a cord over the desk. The stark, windowless room was painted Kempei black.
“How many people have you murdered?” Captain Semba asked suddenly.
Wild thoughts took hold of the young soldier...prison…execution…torture.
“Tomma! Idiot! Answer me! How many?” The officer glared with eyes accustomed to watching victims squirm with but few words from him. “How many?” he asked again in a low mean tone.
“None, sir,” Inouye replied.
“Have you ever had the desire to kill?”
“Truthfully now, wouldn’t you like to kill me this instant?”
“Oh, no sir!”
Semba glanced at the soldier, a faint smile on the twisted mouth. “If I ordered a man to sever your fingers, would you want to kill me?”
Inouye swallowed and shook his head.
“It would be your right to order my fingers severed, sir.”
Semba nodded and grinned, revealing large yellow teeth. “If I brought in your family, tortured then murdered them and drank your mother’s blood, would you want to kill me?” The captain fixed his cruel, unblinking eyes on Inouye’s. “I’m waiting for an answer, private!” Semba snapped, wanting to break the boy despite aversion to his orders. Like every gendarme in the 11th Division area, he thought the experiment ridiculous.
“If you had a reason, sir, you could do nothing that would make me want to kill you,” Inouye said, glancing at the door to his right, fearing his parents and sister were behind it.
“The Kempei needs no reason! Rape, torture and murder would be for my pleasure only! O-wakari ni narimashita ka?”
“Yes, sir, I understand,” said Inouye, though thinking hai, I’d want to kill you. But the thought frightened him. Tennô-heika could be listening. Perhaps the captain could read his mind, too.
“If I ordered you to do the same, would you obey?”
“Hai, sir, I am a soldier.”
Semba knew the boy was lying and wished for the opportunity to test him.
“Have you fornicated with your mother?”
Inouye did not understand. “Shôchi shimash’ ta.”
“You have, have you? What did your father think about that?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Did he watch you do it?”
Ashamed of his ignorance, Inouye eyed the floor. “I don’t understand the word, sir.”
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